The majority agreed to pass the bill (in parliamentary jargon, they agreed to read the bill for a third time). Since the bill has already been passed in the Senate, it will now become law.
Main idea of the bill
The bill will introduce new laws relating to cross media ownership and foreign media ownership. Specifically, it will permit cross-media mergers in radio licence areas where sufficient diversity of media groups remains following the merger and remove media-specific restrictions on foreign ownership and control.
The bill states that there is sufficient diversity of media groups if there are at least five separate media groups in mainland State capitals and at least four groups in other licence areas following any merger activity.
What are cross media ownership laws?
Under the current law, a person can't control two types of media (including TV, radio and newspaper media) within the same licence area. For example, one person can't control a commercial television broadcasting licence and a commercial radio broadcasting licence within a particular area. Nor can they control a commercial radio broadcasting licence and a newspaper associated with the area.
A person is considered to be in control of the particular type of media if they have interests in the company greater than 15%.
What are foreign media ownership laws?
There are currently several controls on foreign ownership of Australian media. For example, there are strict limits on the degree of total foreign interest in newspaper ownership as well as a set limit on the interest of any single foreign shareholder.
Background to the bill
Since it was elected in 1996, the Coalition Government has made its interest in amending Australia's media ownership laws clear. It has asked the advice of the Productivity Commission and previously introduced the Broadcasting Services Amendment (Media Ownership) Bill 2002 and the Broadcasting Services Amendment (Media Ownership) Bill 2002 (No 2), but neither were passed.
The Government restated its commitment to amend these media ownership laws during the 2004 election, in which it was re-elected.
Read more about the background to the bill in its bills digest.